Vocational qualifications will not count in performance tables unless they’re high quality, the Department for Education (DfE) announced under new guidance today.

The changes mean that vocational subjects will only be included on a ‘one-for-one’ basis with academic qualifications from 2014.

The DfE hopes the new rules will stop schools from choosing subjects simply to  boost their performance table position, and prioritise student needs instead.

Under the new guidance, qualifications will only count if:

  • they offer pupils proven progression into a broad range of further qualifications or careers post-16, rather than narrowing students’ options
  • they are the size of a GCSE or bigger
  • they have a substantial proportion of external assessment and require students to use knowledge across their subject
  • they have grades such as A*-G (those with simple pass or fail results will be excluded).

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, said: “We want to be sure that the vocational qualifications taken by 14-16 year olds genuinely lead on to further education and are valued by employers. No pupil should be preparing for a vocational qualification simply to boost the schools “GCSE or equivalent” score in the performance tables.

“These reforms introduce a systematic and fair set of rules that will determine which of the many thousands of qualifications taught in schools can be included in performance tables for 2014 onwards.

“They will lead to a boost in the quality of vocational qualifications being taken and will enhance the opportunities for young people to progress.”

The DfE says that they will publish a full list of qualifications that count towards performance tables in early 2012.

GCSEs, established iGCSEs and AS Levels are said to not be affected by the new criteria.

The announcement is in response to a report by Professor Alison Wolf’s on vocational qualifications, which found that the current performance table system enouraged schools to teach qualifications with the most points.

Professor Alison Wolf found that:

  • The number of so called “equivalent” qualifications taken in schools up to age 16 has exploded in recent years – from 15,000 in 2004 to 575,000 in 2010.
  • In 2009-10, 125,367 students achieved Level 1 (grades D to G) in so-called equivalent qualifications, up from 11,007 in 2003-04.
  • In 2009-10, 462,182 students achieved Level 2 (grades A* to C) in so-called equivalent qualifications, including BTECs, up from 1882 in 2003-04.

The DfE states: “Awarding bodies are still able to refine their existing qualifications offer before then. For existing qualifications too new to prove progression or take-up, there will be opportunities for awarding bodies to gather evidence for review. Awarding bodies whose qualifications fail the assessment and/or grading characteristics only, meeting the other characteristics, will have up to a year to redevelop them. There will be a two-year period where no brand new qualifications will be considered for inclusion in the performance tables.”